My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Reasons to like this book:
Bump up your classics cred, with what was at the time the “newfangled” realist or naturalist writing style. Read about an immoral woman, one who chose neither the path of hard, respectable work nor respectable marriage, who wasn’t also vilified by her creator even through it wasn’t because she didn’t try or because she lacked good intentions. It’s not her fault she was fired from her grinding sweatshop job after being sick. It’s not her fault the guy she married was already married and took her through a sham ceremony. It is refreshing that Dreiser passes no judgments; indeed, he shows us how reasonable it is for a poor, young woman freezing her way through a Chicago winter to accept the gift of a coat, even a stylish and expensive coat, from a man of means and stature to whom she is not married. It gets even better when, despite her common- law marriage and her avarice, Dreiser does not make her die the lonely and agonizing death, à la Madame Bovary or Lady Dedlock, that was de rigueur for other shameless hussies of literature. Carrie soars above and beyond her perceived sins, achieving wealth and glamour by her own merits, leaving the men who took advantage of her behind her in the dust or the gutter or wherever they happened to land. It’s refreshing.
Another reason to read it: Another victim of both bowdlerization and banning, once by its own publisher. I’m a firm believer in reading banned books.
Reasons to not like this book: I found the writing just a bit ponderous. “Oh, the drag of the culmination of the wearisome. How it delays, – – sapping the heart until it is dry…” is an example. Every little detail of people’s thoughts and deeds is rendered in excruciating detail, and I felt I was wrestling the story from the twists and turns of Dreiser’s rather grandiose writing style.
Upshot: Atypical treatment of an atypical woman for the times, and despite its period (it was published in 1900), it is possible to read it without throwing it against the wall, and even to be entertained. I say, go for it.
Bookshelves: classic, women, literature-with-a-capital-l, banned-and-challenged
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